President Donald Trump has employed a series of dubious reelection strategies, but none have been more befuddling than his sexist appeals to women that have illuminated the 1950s mindset that he can't seem to shake.
In yet another unforced error at a time when former Vice President Joe Biden is crushing Trump among female voters, the President told the women of Lansing, Michigan, this week to reelect him because "we're getting your husbands back to work."
That offensive salvo pointed not only to his long history of sexist remarks, but also his ignorance about the disproportionate impact that the coronavirus pandemic has wrought on working women, who are juggling their jobs with the burdens of homeschooling their children as the virus enters the dreaded fall surge.
Trump's insulting language about women -- and his combative, aggressive demeanor toward his critics, which even he has acknowledged is a problem with female voters during several recent rallies -- has created some real electoral consequences for him this cycle.
Trump won a majority of White women voters in 2016, but CNN's new poll released Wednesday afternoon showed yet another major warning sign for Trump as it showed Biden leading among White women 54% to 45%.
Democrats have never won a majority of White women dating back to 1972 exit polls, according to CNN's Director of Polling and Election Analytics Jennifer Agiesta. (Former President Bill Clinton won White women by 48% to 43% in 1996, but the party has never gotten to the 50% threshold or above.)
If the President had been paying attention to news beyond the confines of what affects his grievance-laden campaign, he might have noticed that a stunning 617,000 women dropped out of the US labor force in September, just as the school year started, a figure that was nearly eight times the number of men.
About half of those women were of prime working age, between 35 and 44, as CNN Business' Anneken Tappe reported, creating fears about the pandemic's long-term consequences on equity and gender diversity in the workplace.
Before the pandemic hit -- apparently unbeknownst to Trump in his "Leave It to Beaver" bubble -- about 57% of women were participating in the workforce, according to a US Department of Labor report last year on women's employment.
Moreover, some 70% of mothers with children under 18 were working when Trump took office in 2017. Mothers were the primary or sole earners for 40% of households with children, compared to 11% in 1960, according to Labor Department statistics.
But Trump's frame of reference when it comes to suburban women seems to be the idealization of the 1950s or 1960s housewife, who was waiting by the door in an apron and pearls with dinner in the oven when her husband came home from work.
Trump's advisers have taken great pains, particularly during the Republican National Convention, to counter that perception by touting his efforts to elevate working women in his campaign and administration -- from his daughter Ivanka Trump and his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, to his former adviser Kellyanne Conway, to Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whom he recently named to the highest court. Barrett may have appealed more effectively to women during her nomination ceremony when she skillfully conveyed her judicial philosophy, while also speaking about being a "room parent, carpool driver and birthday party planner."
But rather than addressing the root of his problem with female voters -- which is their aversion to his boorish behavior and disapproval of his handling of coronavirus -- his recent campaign appeals have often come off as unsophisticated and ham-handed: "I love women and I can't help it, they are the greatest," the President said in Lansing, before moving on to what he said he was doing to help their "husbands" get back to work. "I love them much more than the men."
Out on the trail in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump tried to woo reluctant women voters by stating that as "an independent woman" she is grateful "for a president who has championed not only women, but working mothers."
But Trump has repeatedly twisted himself into a rhetorical pretzel on that topic, particularly when he is not speaking from a teleprompter.
In July, he tweeted to a group that few Americans recognized in the 21st century -- pleading with "the Suburban Housewives of America" to read a New York Post column about an Obama-era housing regulation aimed at reducing desegregation. (At a recent campaign rally, he asked women in the crowd if they minded being called "housewives." He seemed satisfied when many shouted back that they did not; underscoring his refusal to leave his echo chamber).
But what has made Trump's "suburban housewives" categorization even more insulting is that he appears to view them as a narrow-minded group fearful of racial integration of their neighborhoods -- as though attitudes about race haven't changed since those pitched battles over busing and desegregation after the Civil Rights movement.
That fact is underscored by the central plank in Trump's pitch to "suburban women," which is his decision to get rid of the Obama-era desegregation rule that he claimed would have destroyed the suburbs by putting low-income housing next to single-family homes.
(The 2015 rule was, in fact, intended to address persistent segregation in American neighborhoods by building on the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which barred discrimination in selling or renting homes based on race).
Trump, however, sees the issue as a winner: "I was supposed to do badly with women the last time," Trump said in Lansing, noting that he ultimately "did great with women" in his estimation in 2016. "That's going to happen again. Because women, suburban or otherwise, they want security. ... They want safety. They want law and order."
His comment to women in Lansing that he was trying to get their husbands back to work came in the middle of his false attack that Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is keeping "everybody locked up like a prison" during the pandemic -- suggesting she has done so to keep her husband from sailing. Selectively applying his own rhetoric about law-and-order, Trump has appeared to give a pass to the domestic kidnapping plot against Whitmer, who has said that Trump's rhetoric fuels "vicious attacks" against her and her family.
Continuing to amplify his vision that women are mainly focused on all things in the domestic realm, including finicky appliances, Trump appealed to female voters in Nevada earlier this month by telling them he had fixed their dishwashers by addressing what he viewed as problematic water pressure regulations.
At that rally, Trump claimed that women had come up to him to share their frustrations that the dishwasher "doesn't clean the dishes right." "The women come up to me -- the women who they say don't like me -- they actually do like me a lot," he said, claiming victory on the dishwasher issue.
More broadly, Trump has alienated female voters across the political spectrum with his attempted take-downs of women he views as opponents with gendered language. His targets have included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom he calls "crazy"; Whitmer, whom he has characterized as a "a dictator"; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom he refers to as "Pocahontas"; and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, whom he called "a monster."
The President also objected to Harris' tough questioning of his then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in a year when Trump sent many female voters over the edge by mocking Christine Blasey Ford, one of the women who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Kavanaugh denied all the allegations against him.
During the #MeToo movement, Trump claimed that men were under attack in America and said it was a "very scary time" for young men. And he expressed a kinship for Kavanaugh claiming that he had also had "many false allegations" lodged against him. During the 2016 campaign, at least 15 women accused Trump of misbehavior ranging from sexual harassment and sexual assault to lewd behavior, all of which he denied.
"Think of your son. Think of your husband," Trump said at that October 2018 rally in Mississippi where he mocked Ford's allegations about Kavanaugh's behavior and suggested there were holes in her story.
Trump's narrowing margin among White women is now part of Biden's huge advantage over Trump among female voters more broadly. Earlier this month, CNN's Harry Enten found that Biden was up by 25 points among women voters in an average of recent live interview polls.
And Biden's strength among women is even more eye-popping when one considers that Hillary Clinton led among women by just 13 points in the final pre-election polls in 2016 even though she was her party's first female presidential nominee.
In CNN's poll of likely voters released Wednesday afternoon, Biden led Trump among women 61% to 37% -- a major driver in the former vice president's national lead. And women are speaking not just with their votes, but with their money. A new analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics for CNN showed that women helped fuel a fundraising surge for Biden that has given him an edge in the closing months of the campaign.
Given that the vast majority of US voters have already made up their minds about the presidential race, Trump's clumsy comments this week about getting women's husbands back to work may not move many votes. But they will be noticed by many of those female voters already angered by his efforts to undermine them over the past four years. And that will give them just one more reason to get out to the polls and possibly vote against Republicans -- who have widely defended the President -- all the way down the ballot.